Tsh Oxenreider, author of the deceptively-titled* Notes from a Blue Bike, is a Christian mom, author, and blogger. She used to write a SimpleMom.net but the way her business was set up changed and you can find her at The Art of Simple. This is supposed to be a book that deals with living slowly and more intentionally, making time for the things that matter to you and eliminating from your life the things that don’t.
I really appreciate that this book isn’t simply a 200+ redo of her blog because that’s annoying when bloggers to do. Tsh instead capitalizes on the central theme of her blog – simple living – and attempts to tackle it more thoroughly in book form. Unfortunately, there are several reasons I don’t really think she achieves this goal.
- Structure Issue #1: The chapters are so short. Maybe that’s because her main goal is to keep the whole book simple, and initially she does this well as she breaks the book into five sections based on the five things she and her husband have claimed as important in their lives: food, work, education, travel, and entertainment. I loved that concept because she really broke down what her family valued and she kept it basic. It’s when she got into the meat of chapter that she lost her steam, because there isn’t any meat there. The chapters are typically 2-4 pages and just when you think she’s going to get to something deep and meaningful, she’s moved on to a separate chapters. These read more as anecdotes from life than advice on simple living.
- Structure Issue #2: The chapters are divided by location. The Oxenreider family loves travel and has lived in a lot of different places. There’s even a really cool map at the beginning of the book. While it’s awesome to see their love of travel in action, breaking up the chapters in this way doesn’t help in telling a story about simple living because it seems so hurried and jerky. If I want to read about simple living, I don’t want to feel like I’m being jarred.
Those criticisms aside, there were parts of the book that I really liked a lot, especially the entire section on education. Although her family isn’t homeschooling this season, Tsh talks a lot about the decision on how to educate her three kids and how what’s right one year might not be right the next – and she speaks from experience, having both homeschooled and sent to public school. I have always maintained that when I have kids, I will homeschool them (as long as it’s what is best for them and not a selfish decision on my part) and Tsh really validated some of those thoughts. In fact, at one point I felt like she could be describing me:
Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value. I had felt I was a creative person when I was in the public school system, but looking back, I realize I was never really encouraged to tap into my creativity and stretch my boundaries. My grades were good enough to put me in the top guarder of my graduating class, but by the time I tossed that cap in the air, I was tired of school… I don’t doubt any of my teachers intentionally left me in a malaise, but I do wonder how much more of a curious student of life I’d be today if I’d been given the tools that fit me best when I was younger.
I didn’t graduate school feeling tired of it but more annoyed by it because I could feel the tension of creativity and the desire to create in me and aside from two English teachers, my creative side was rarely, if ever, encouraged. I do often think how I would have benefited from nontraditional education that honed in on my creative skills and love of reading as a child and teenager. Tsh does a good job of explaining how this is important to her family and how she educates her kid.
Something I really appreciated in the education section as well is that Tsh highlights the importance of reading to your kids, regardless of how you school them. Study after study has shown that kids with access to books in their home, even low-income kids, do better in school and go further than kids without. I wish I could hammer this into the head of every adult (even those without kids!) because it is CRUCIAL.
Ultimately, there is value in this book, although I don’t think it exactly sets out to do what it it intends to do.
*Ok, unless I’m a totally oblivious reader this week, I didn’t see any references to the blue bike mentioned in the title until the end. I feel like this book had a kind of deceptive premise as well as title!